More than a decade later, Bill Dee recalls the play, opponent and circumstance.
Serious second-half deficit.
But most vividly, Dee remembers the tailback who fueled Phoebus' furious comeback on that September afternoon in 1996: Antwoine Womack.
"He had good speed, and he got faster when he went on to college," says Dee, the Phantoms' 24th-year coach. "But man, he was a great cutback runner, a slasher.
"You can work on (that) vision, but it's God-given. You can work on where they're supposed to hit the hole and stuff like that. But once they get to a certain part of the play, then their God-given ability takes over."
Such instinctive vision is what defines most great backs.
It's not speed measured by the stopwatch or size by the tape measure. No, it's much more subtle.
"I think speed is overrated when you're looking for a running back," Dee says. "Of course it's great if you have that speed where you can just tear it open in the open field. But I'd rather have a guy who knows how to run than a guy who's just pure fast."
Dee knows. He labored at offensive guard for Mansfield (Pa.) University, and he's coached more top-flight runners than most, if not all, high school coaches in these parts, none better than Womack.
Billy Hite knows, too. He played tailback at North Carolina during the early '70s and since 1978 has coached Virginia Tech's running backs, 10 of whom have been selected in the NFL draft.
"There are certain guys who can find that little crack or seam, where other guys can't find it," Hite says. "A lot of guys just get the ball and run. There's no rhyme or reason."
Truly great backs, and the Peninsula has been graced with many, from Keyes to Kirby, run with the rhyme and reason of a poet.
There is little wasted movement, especially from the waist up. They make few frivolous cuts and rarely waste yardage with extended lateral jaunts.
Each move serves a purpose. Not to say every one works. Far from it.
"They see it their own way," Virginia coach Al Groh says. "You can't overcoach them. You just have to be quiet. If you don't, all of a sudden you turn them into a thinking player. They've got to be a reactive player."
Translation: These are artists. They need space and freedom to create.
Don't mess with them.
"A coach can not coach a tailback on what he sees," Womack says. "Every tailback is going to see things differently."
Many other traits augment that vision. Speed and quickness; toughness and durability; soft hands and strong forearms.
Michael Johnson's sprinter's speed — he was the state 100-meter champion — led Heritage to the 2000 Division 5 state championship. Tabb's Terry Kirby and Carver's Leroy Keyes couldn't match that raw speed, but their instincts, quickness and durability set them apart.
"Guys who in high school have carried it 40, 45 times (in a game), those are the guys I've always loved," Hite says.
And how do coaches discover that toughness in backs?
Hite matches them against linebackers in pass-protection drills. Dee runs them against the first-team defense in simulated goal-line plays.
"Sometimes guys take a good hit, and they don't want any part of it," Dee says. "I like the ones who keep on coming back.
"We always teach them to use their forearm to protect themselves, to deliver a blow. ... If you see contact coming, don't avoid it. ... If you're afraid of sticking your nose in there, then you can't be a running back."
The fearless ones come in all shapes and sizes.
At 5-foot-10, 158 pounds as a Lafayette senior in 1979, Mel Gray was hardly a prototypical workhorse. But in his final high school game, he lugged the ball 35 times for 204 yards and the winning touchdown against Richmond's Armstrong-Kennedy. At Purdue, he carried 36 times in the Old Oaken Bucket game against Indiana.
Conversely, the 6-2, 205-pound Kirby was built for durability, never more so than in an epic collision against Hampton in 1988. Kirby rumbled for 187 yards on 40 carries that September evening.
"You can't be afraid to get hit," Womack says, all the while praising his linemen for limiting those hits. "You have to want to take on everything and everyone."
Fifteen summers ago, Womack walked on to Phoebus' practice field for the first time. He was a 6-foot, 180-pound freshman.
"He was pretty special," Dee says. "We were in dire need. We were looking at a number of kids that year and we said, 'Man, this kid's only going to be a ninth-grader.'
"But I remember (assistant coach) Mike Tallon saying, 'That freshman's the best one in the group.' I said, 'I don't disagree with you, but he hasn't been tested.' He was struggling with practice. It was a whole different world because he came straight from rec league."
Womack aced his first test, running for 182 yards in a season-opening rout of Princess Anne. The game he most remembers came a year later, when he rushed for 265 yards in a victory over Tabb.
Womack departed Phoebus as Group AAA's career rushing leader with 5,570 yards, a mark the Phantoms' Elan Lewis shattered eight years later.
Among Womack's 12 games of 200-plus yards was the Denbigh comeback in 1996. The Phantoms trailed 23-6 in the third quarter when Womack took a handoff from quarterback Jay Brown.
The play was "22 iso," which isolates the fullback to block a linebacker. The tailback follows the fullback into a hole over right guard and cuts according to the fullback's block.
Long a Phoebus staple, the play did not surprise Denbigh's defense — the fierce Max Yates was at linebacker. Except Womack stopped on a dime, cut to his left and raced 46 yards for a score.
The Phantoms rallied for a 27-23 victory, and Womack finished with 263 yards on 19 carries, nearly 14 yards per attempt.
"Those great ones just see where it's developing and they just find a way," Dee says.
In describing Womack's signature run, Dee estimates the distance at 70 yards.
A dozen years after the fact, we'll forgive the embellishment. Just as we'll forgive Womack's memory lapse.
"I swear," he says. "I don't remember that play at all."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times